Whitewater rafting accident claims woman, 47
By Chris Woodall
A 47-year-old Saskatoon woman drowned in the Birkenhead River one kilometre north of Mount Currie, Saturday, June 13, when the raft she was riding flipped over after striking a tree lying in the river's rapidly flowing waters.
Seven others in the raft made it to shore safely, but Margorie Mae Braid was swept under the two-foot-diameter log and pinned there beyond all help.
It took two and a half hours to recover the body. A helicopter had been used in the initial search in hopes that Braid had been carried unseen downstream.
Braid and her husband were in one of three rafts guided by Whistler River Adventures. This is the first serious accident for the 15-year-old whitewater company, says manager-owner Brian Leighton.
The coroner's service is still investigating the accident, but Pemberton RCMP do not anticipate laying any charges.
The rafting accident occurred in class three rapids between a bailey bridge over the Birkenhead and the fish hatchery downstream.
Guides called "911" from the fish hatchery's phone. Members of Pemberton Search & Rescue, Pemberton Fire Rescue and other personnel arrived to recover the woman's body.
"Once we made the call, the response was really good and I appreciate that, even though there was not much we could have done (to help the woman)," Leighton says.
Rapids are designated from one (moving flat water) to five (extremely dangerous). Class three rapids have lots of moderate white water, several drops and require manoeuvring to get through them.
Passengers wear helmets, wet suits and life vests. They are also given a thorough review of safety procedures before they enter the rafts, as Pique Newsmagazine discovered when it wrote about riding Birkenhead's rapids last year.
Leighton and employees were devastated by the accident.
They and the visitors on the ill-fated trip were given trauma counselling immediately after the incident, Leighton told Pique Newsmagazine this week.
Staff have also received further counselling this week and have reviewed their safety and operational guidelines, Leighton says.
There's a sense of "why us," Leighton says of his company's previously clean slate.
"Each year we get better at what we do with our skill levels, with guiding and in how we operate," Leighton says.
"We are beyond what's recommended by the province," Leighton says of the amount of safety instruction given customers and providing appropriate equipment.
"You can try to imagine all kinds of situations, but there's always an element of risk just as there is when driving Highway 99," Leighton says. "That's not to say we're not going to look hard at what happened. You always think about how you could have done things better."